Are we desensitized to rape culture?

A friend of mine recently posted the following image on Facebook:

It’s a band poster for a show. The band claims they were trying to depict the alternative lifestyle of bondage. Is that what you see? My friend sure didn’t see it. She’s a doctoral student at The University of Southern Mississippi, where these posters were hung. She immediately posted this picture and called her fellow students to arms, to deface this poster, and the others like it.

She brilliantly took to the campus streets and wrote on the posters, leaving the number for the rape hotline, and other messages like, “Who owns your body?”.  Can we get a round of applause for her?

The issue got some local media attention, and my friend was interviewed in the local paper. Pretty awesome, in my book. The problem for me is that heroes like my friend, willing to take a stand against images of women being brutalized, are so few and far between, and the number of people who even notice the image in the first place are so gigantic. The band front man claimed ignorance, stating that he wasn’t trying to hurt anyone. Truthfully, I believe him. He didn’t think it was a problem. Other students around campus were equally unaffected, but thought that people would go to the show as a result of the image alone. Now with all the publicity they’re getting, they might even sell out.

The problem isn’t that the band guy used the image. It’s that he didn’t think it was a problem. This woman is just a drawing. She doesn’t have a past, or family, or a story behind why her hair is so long. She isn’t real, so it should be okay? Right? I wonder if how the public would react if we took an image of a soldier, it doesn’t even have to be an American soldier, it can be as non-descript as this woman. This soldier could be bound in the same way as this woman, with the same headline, as this band poster. How do you think it would go over? I’ll bet there’d be a lot more than a few students protesting. I’ve actually been playing around in my mind’s eye, swapping out the image of this naked woman, and interchanging different kinds of clothed males, and each one is pretty jarring, and would probably gain as much attention for being out of the ordinary, as it would for being offensive and scary. A mailman, firefighter, and dare I even write it…okay…cop? Crazy to think that images of bound men IN CLOTHES, could inspire more shock than a naked woman, but that is exactly the situation here.

Most of the student body didn’t even notice it. Of those who did, only a select few complained. So what the rest of the student body, and likely most of society, is essentially communicating is that an image of a bound, naked, woman is not offensive. This is as easily blended into the scenery of our lives as the rest of the billboards and posters– Tide, Bounty, Coca-cola, and brutalized women–none of these raise an eyebrow anymore…that is unless you’ve got laundry to do, or forgot the paper towels again.

I’m tempted to apologize for the exaggeration, and perhaps before this incident I might have, but this thing really did happen. We glaze over at the silhouettes of playboy bunnies imprinted on the mudflaps and air fresheners of thousands of vehicles, and that’s because we really are bombarded with the nude image of women through almost every kind of media. Without getting into that whole conversation, let me jump right to the point, we shouldn’t be okay with images of women being hurt! We aren’t okay with the images of anyone else being hurt. Let’s be honest, when you think about what a crucifix really is, just for a moment you get the hee bee jeebies, and that has had centuries of development as a symbol of life everlasting for millions of people. So how can we condone imagery that depicts torturing…anyone? This wasn’t a news story about something that happened, it was advertising! These people were trying to solicit business with this imagery, which not only indicates that they were unaffected by the image, but that they felt, and felt that other would agree, that this image was attractive enough to convince you to come see their band play. And then there were the people who were just unaffected by the poster, and it’s implications.

Now, let’s take things a few steps back. As women reading this, how many of you have ever had their asses grabbed by men you didn’t know? Breasts? How about going dancing? How many erect genitals have you had rubbed into your backs? Was this something that you welcomed? Was it okay with you? I’ve never met a woman who actually appreciated that attention. “Oh thank you for rubbing your erect penis in the small of my back! It was so erotic and sexy, and I would never have noticed you otherwise…” Another like-minded blogger at, posted about the concept of a “typical women’s” experiences with unwanted sexual touch. It’s so common place, getting grabbed on the subway, professional men standing too close and stroking your arm, being treated like a pet, an object intended for the male gaze. It seems like our lives, desires, and wants are secondary to this preliminary role in life. This is so ordinary in our lives that we don’t even talk about it.

The more we don’t talk about it, the more likely it is to be repeated to our sisters, our daughters, and our nieces. Maybe you’re not ready to admit it yourself just now, but you might be just like the students who didn’t notice. Don’t shut out the conversation out of guilt. Just promise yourself that in the future, you will notice. Maybe we aren’t all as brave as the faculty and students of Southern Mississippi who took action, but just talking about it, will at least give the braves one the courage to take action. I imagine that it is only with our help, that our heroes are motivated to stand up for the masses. I, for one, will do my best to stand up with women, like my friend, so that we don’t have to beat ourselves up with guilt when we realize we didn’t even notice.

Leave a comment


  1. Christina Rothenbeck

     /  April 21, 2012

    Thank you, Tai, for writing this. Every single one of these posters felt like a punch in my gut. And it’s so important to realize how often women’s bodies are used to sell things, how OK our culture is with the idea that women’s bodies don’t belong to them. If I’ve managed to get people talking, I’m grateful.

    • I’ve been following this since you first posted. I think you’ve inspired a really important conversation. I have to say, at first glance, I glazed over it, and then I realized that I’d been behaving just like the rest of society. It’s disgusting to think that in 2012 we are still battling to be less than property. I commented on the article itself too. This whole thing really moved me…so thank you!

  2. Enkidu

     /  April 23, 2012

    I thought I would take a moment and educate you about what’s going on here. I am a gay male SUBMISSIVE. I enjoy having done to me what is depicted in the image on the poster just as many females that I know do.

    BDSM is a venue of human sexuality that is natural and innate. The BDSM world adopts the following mantra: safe, sane, and consensual (SSC). Anything that people do within the world of BDSM is always safe, meaning that everything that occurs will not endanger the lives of those involved, sane, meaning that everything that happens will not be too far outlandish, and consensual, meaning that nothing will be done to anyone involved without first the explicit consent of everyone involved, and anything that occurs can stop at any time at the request of anyone involved.

    You have completely misunderstood this culture. It is not “rape culture” despite the fact that many people do enjoy engaging in something called “rape fantasy.” However, this “rape fantasy” is always done safely, sanely, and consensually by use of safewords and other precautions to prevent the damage of anyone involved. The person to whom the “rape” is happening has complete power to stop the scene at any time, and if this “limit” is not respected, legal action can and SHOULD be taken against whoever continued after one of the people involved expressed discomfort.

    This culture involves the expression of alternative, and, in some cases, COMMON outlets that are innately part of human sexuality. Despite what you may think, many people find pain, restraints, and domination or submission to be erotic and pleasurable. The kind of pain practiced in the BDSM world has the potential to release chemicals in your brain that allow you to experience many pleasurable sensations. Some people, like me, view submission as an outlet to become a stronger person. I enjoy a dom(me), or a dominant person, to explore my limits of pain and endurance. It makes me proud of myself.

    I’ll give you credit for saying that it would be just as awful for a person of authority or merit such as a firefighter or a soldier to be put in that woman’s place, but you’re making an incorrect comparison. Rather than trying to use an equal representation to that of a woman (take, for instance, a man who has just as little background information as that woman), you’re elevating that woman to a place that is above that of a person of authority. A male OR female soldier would have been inappropriate for this poster not only because that’s not what the lifestyle represents but also because that DOES enforce the degradation of someone (not necessarily women) in society. However, stop lying to yourself. Had a man with no history been put in her place, no one would have noticed or cared. This is the exact opposite of feminism. Feminism advocates the equality of men and women. You’re not advocating that by comparing an image of a woman with no history to a soldier or a firefighter.

    • Please be sure that I am in no way criticizing the BDSM lifestyle/culture. I have no issues with it at all, and believe that adults should be free to engage in whatever consensual behaviors they’d like.

      No one is calling BDSM “rape culture”. That is not the case. Rape culture, in the context I am using it in, is being used to describe society, not the BDSM culture.

      The problem I am describing is that this poster was placed on a college campus where 1 in every 4 women are victims of rape. College is almost it’s own rape culture. The fact that female images (clothed or unclothed) are used to sell every day items, gives the impression that women are tools to be used. The very reason that anyone thinks they have the right to women’s bodies is because we are bombarded with messages that communicate as such.

      This ad for Belvedere is an excellent example of this

      Moreover, this image was not used for a BDSM event. There was no BDSM taking place at this event. This was a dress-up party, where BDSM was reduced to a costume you would dress up as, not a culture you are a part of. They took the imagery of a culture and used it to sell tickets. Kind of like a Dress as a Native America party to sell tickets to see a DJ.

      And, I’m sorry, but I would absolutely be disturbed should the image have been of a bound man with a similar lack of history. Torture, of any kind, disturbs me unless I am made aware that this person is consenting to this encounter, I’m going to act as if they are not.

      • Enkidu

         /  April 25, 2012

        Yes, but we’re not talking about society. We’re talking about BDSM culture. The poster was an advertisement for the event as well as the entertainment that would be there. There were people there who only went because of the fact that it was called a dungeon/BDSM party. Many people didn’t even care about Cash Fountain Productions in the least. Moreover, I was there, and BDSM did take place. There were people there who consistently lived the lifestyle. I was even handcuffed to a bondage cross and flogged by no less than five females with riding crops. Do not presume to tell me what happened at that event. You were not even there.

        Rape culture is the insinuation that women’s bodies can be used without consent. No woman’s body was used without her explicit consent at the event or in that poster. Moreover, it was a silhouette of a woman. Futhermore, had an actual image of a woman been used, the model in the photoshoot would have been educated about the event, and she would have had to give her consent to be used for the photoshoot in that way before the image would’ve been allowed to go public. Women, believe it or not, have enough common sense to say, “Uh, no, I don’t feel comfortable enough with this to allow you to do that with my body.” If you think they don’t, I would assume that you’re the one who views women as lesser beings that are at the disposal of society. Woman are not mindless. They have the ability to make their own decisions. Don’t get me wrong, though. There are some cases in which people are afraid to talk about the disgusting things that have been done to do to them. However, those people have had sexual crimes against them, and they deserve justice.

        The image in that particular advertisement was too much. It does imply rape. The advertisement was targeting a bunch of idiot college students who only think of sex and would find it humorous. This is different, though. The silhouette of the woman was connected with the BDSM-lifestyle, which any educated person knows is a purely consensual act.

        You’re not angry about the fact that a woman’s body was used in an advertisement. You’re unhappy that people actually consent to this type of lifestyle, and you don’t understand it. And when representations of this type of culture go public, people like you tend to have a hissy-fit because it doesn’t fit into your cookie-cutter way of life.

        Stop lying to yourself and realize that if it had been a man, you wouldn’t have noticed. The reason it was a woman, though, is because the most common gender of a submissive is female whether you want to accept it or not. Gay males, who often think similarly to women, are often submissives also.

        You’re going too far by say that this event had any correlation with the fact that people think that they have the right to a woman’s body. And you keep saying “women,” which makes me more inclined to say that you would have not noticed the poster had it been of a male. People get offended when anyone mistreats a woman (and in no way was any woman’s body mistreated here), but males are supposed to be strong, dominant, and able to take care of themselves. A man who can’t is viewed as lesser. It’s a double standard. No one has any right to anyone else’s body in any way unless he or she consents to his or her body being used that way. It’s that simple. No one’s body was used here. It’s a drawing–a silhouette. Therefore, no one’s consent was violated. The image came from someone else’s mind. If this is true, to say that one cannot express these images would infringe upon a person’s freedom of speech. Do you see the problems here?

      • I see that you’re talking about BDSM culture, but I AM talking about society at large, as opposed to one culture within it. I am referring to an image of a woman bound, regardless of her culture, being used on a college campus to advertise a DJ. I find this to be incredibly problematic because of society at large’s track record of using female anatomy as advertising. Should this have been a man bound, I would still find this problematic, but probably for a different reason, in this you are correct.

        Perhaps it is a double-standard, or perhaps it is because the reality of the physical differences between the sexes (different than genders) make it so that women are not on equal footing with men. Men ARE physically stronger. Women, on college campuses in particular, are at higher risk of attack. Maybe it’s because women aren’t acculturated to develop their physical strengths as much as men are, but the reality is women are the ones getting drugged, and date raped on college campuses at a much higher rates than men…or maybe that’s what’s being reported. At any rate, in a society that uses women as tools for advertising, when you add the layer of violent implication that this image does have, the conversation becomes one about whether these advertisements are a cause or effect. I am merely engaging in this conversation, and adding my opinion-which is a right I have been given thanks to the First Amendment.

        Now, in regards to what took place at the actual event in question: I stand corrected. You are right. I was not there. It was my understanding that there was no BDSM which took place there. However, due to the information you’ve given me, I now am educated as to what did happen. However, the statement you made about “most people” not even caring about Cash Fountain, I’m going to have to disagree. On the webpage of the article published in the Press about this incident there were many fans of the DJ who spoke out, in his defense, and in defense of BDSM culture as well. It seems to me that there were plenty of people who were there for the band.

        I agree with your definition of Rape Culture, and with your assessment of BDSM culture. In fact I’ll even go as far as agreeing that it is likely that this picture, as well as any hypothetical model for this picture, or one like it, were involved in anything that wasn’t consensual. Unfortunately, aside from the reading of those involved in BDSM culture (which is a subset of the population at large, you’ll agree), this message does not communicate any kind of implication that this woman is choosing to be bound. Should the artist have been trying to imply consent, they would have employed some sort of technique to give that impression.

        TO address your accusations about what “really makes me angry” about this situation, I would like to begin by asking you not to decide for me. Like you said, women aren’t mindless and are capable of coming to their own conclusions. Sure, you can call me a liar, but then the conversation would end, because I’m not really interested in name-calling, are you?

        BDSM doesn’t offend me. You’re right, I don’t understand it, and I haven’t really spent a whole lot of time trying to understand the nuances. That’s really because I’m not interested in it. I’m also not interested in fly fishing or bug collecting, but that doesn’t mean that I would be interested in preventing anyone from engaging in it. Adults are free to engage in whatever consensual behavior they’d like in their own time. I’m not against advertising for BDSM. I’m not even against advertising BDSM events on college campuses. I am against using the feminine form to perpetuate the concept that women don’t own their own bodies. I am against non-consensual violence.

        It amuses me to think about myself as living a cookie-cutter existence, but I wonder if I would know it even if I was living it. Either way, I’m pretty sure you will refuse to be convinced that not only does it not offend me, but I just don’t care about it. Perhaps you’re thinking I belong to some other group of people, but I’ve seen, met, been involved with all kinds of people. I hate to name drop that I live a stone’s throw from NYC, but it should give you some impression of the level of acceptance an open mindedness I might possibly possess. I am a minority. I am a woman. I am a stay at home mom, for goodness sake’s, even that is a derogatory term nowadays. I have an education, a mix raced marriage, a mix raced child, a stepchild, and an extended family which includes at least 50 people at any family occasion (which is at least once a month). I am exposed to a very wide variety of people, from different backgrounds, different cultures, with different interests. BDSM isn’t even close to the ones that could begin to upset me. This issue isn’t about BDSM. I’ll say it again, it’s about society. All of it. Sure that includes BDSM, but just as much as it includes Evangelical Christians, Mormons, Atheists, mailmen, soldiers, accountants, blue-eyed people, people with 6 toes on one foot…do you see where I’m going with this? I get that you feel the need to defend your lifestyle, and that’s cool, but no one here is attacking it. I encourage you to take a step back and recognize this.

      • Enkidu

         /  April 25, 2012

        In that last paragraph, I didn’t mean to imply that men are supposed to be dominant. I just meant that they’re expected to be that way by society, which is a double standard. I just that I should clarify because when I read over it, it didn’t seem clear.

  3. Enkidu

     /  April 25, 2012

    I really do see what you’re saying. I shouldn’t have called you that, and I shouldn’t have said some of the other things I said. For that I apologize. I experienced a moment of heavy conceit, and I shouldn’t have allowed it to dictate my reason enough to say those things. I probably did go to far, and I did miss a key part of your point and tried going on a rant that had little to do with your actual argument. I’m actually very embarrassed now. Perhaps I did feel as if it were being attacked, and that’s why I felt so inclined to go on a crusade to defend it.

    I probably shouldn’t continue with this discussion. I’m embarrassed enough to stop.

    • Thanks for the conversation! I really appreciate you reading my blog, and talking with me. I hope you’ll come back again.

  4. I am a very opened minded person, but there is one thing that I never joke about, and that is rape. It is something that I have never and will never find funny.

    R&B music videos really bug me, how often the man is dressed up and often even wearing a fur coat or something just as ridiculous while all the women around him are in bikinis. Why does society think it is ok to have women exposing their bodies and dancing sexily while the men around are fully dressed. Why do so many adverts on the TV depict women naked/semi naked to sell the product.

    I agree that the female form is very sexy, but it doesn’t mean the female form has to be exploted to sell products constantly.

    On so many forum sites see women writing about their men wanting to perform what I call violent sexual acts such as making the woman gag during oral sex, ‘playfully’ strangly her etc, and the woman is actually asking if she should allow her man to do this. Now I know that what goes on between two consenting adults should be kept between those two adults, but the fact the girls ask if they should allow their man to do this shows that we’re stil in some way uncomfortable with this idea, but aren’t blanking out the idea straight away as we feel unsure about whether it is ok or not. It isn’t ok, men should not feel that treating a women their supposed to love in this way is ok, but for some reason many people seem to think it is.

    I think that as a society we need to stop putting so much emphasis on the way that women look, step away from the makeup, the body-con and the plastic surgery and start being judged on the merit of a persons character and acheievements rather than on what someone looks like.

    • I agree, smartiebabie. We live in a society where women’s bodies are used as marketing tools. The female form ( and the male form BTW) are beautiful, but the message that is sent is that we must either have bodies, like these bodies used for advertising, or we are unworthy. That whole inner conflict distracts us from the real problem–that we don’t feel our bodies are our own. We are used to seeing woman’s naked form in so many situations that it doesn’t phase anyone to see it being tortured. It’s not right.


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